Early punk's greatest glory, and greatest flaw, was that most of the bands were signed before they'd reached true musical proficiency. No wonder they sounded so unique -- they weren't capable of imitating their influences yet. Not so with the Ruts, who were able to deliver a powerful musical punch with their debut album, something virtually unique among old-school British punk bands. Easily able to recreate not just first-wave punk stylings, but classic rock as well, the Ruts' influences ran the gamut of genres from Motörhead to Marley, the New York Dolls to the Banshees. Thus, The Crack was one blindingly original album, far removed from its contemporaries. At the core, the quartet's sound was based primarily on '70s rock, played fast and hard, bringing them into the sphere of the street punks, an evolving genre later tagged Oi!, and eventually mutating into both speed metal and hardcore. The album features a clutch of headbanging pogo-til-you-puke blasts of fury, anthemic shout-alongs one and all. But the Ruts were capable of much more than simplistic punk-rockers in a metal mode. Some songs feature a wondrous gothic drone; "It Was Cold" was indebted to both Magazine and the Police, while other tracks give nods to pub rock and R&B. Out of this mass of sounds and styles, the Ruts hammered out intriguing hybrids, darkly shadowed, but occasionally emerging into the pop light. "Dope for Guns," for example, weds a hard rock verse to an anthemic poppy chorus, then ties the knot with a reggae riff, while "Is It Something That I Said" pushes toward Buzzcocks territory. The seminal "Jah War," inspired by the Southall riots, is simmering roots reggae/dub, but seared by classic rock guitar leads, totally redefining the rockers genre. The group was, if anything, even stronger lyrically. "Babylon's Burning" turns a powerful punk-rocker into an epic, with singer Malcolm Owen capturing the anger, frustration, and horror of anyone caught up in a riot. On "Jah War," he deliberately cools his passions, giving the words more nuanced power than if he allowed his anger to break free. On the sinister "S.U.S.," a response to England's infamous stop and search law, the group combines to create an ominous atmosphere of paranoia, a sound more chilling than that of any modern black metal band. The CD reissue also includes the B-sides from the group's three singles, the dub-heavy "Give Youth a Chance," the slamming, if somewhat silly "I Ain't Sophisticated," and the jokey "The Crack," where more excellent dub is interspersed with the group's rather amusing take on early rock & roll.
AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene